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New research from Cass Business School has found that business sustainability strategies can succeed alongside mainstream competitive strategies when managers believe in them.
In 'Toward a Process Theory of Making Sustainability Strategies Legitimate in Action', published in the Academy of Management Journal, the researchers found that although managers support sustainability strategies, there can be tensions in goals, values, and in product features. This can occur when implementing them alongside the mainstream strategy, creating the potential for 'decoupling' - where organisations adopt policies symbolically, without implementing them substantially.
Tensions - Tasks - Tensions - Legitimacy - Strategy
However, they found that working through these tensions on specific tasks helps to overcome them. Resolving tensions reinforces the organisational-level legitimacy of the strategy and its integration within the mainstream strategy.
The three-year qualitative study focused on the implementation of a new sustainability strategy alongside a mainstream strategy at TechPro, a market-leading global manufacturer with 20,000 full-time employees and an annual revenue of $3.5 billion (USD). While the company had no existing sustainability strategy, it had a long history of placing a high premium on corporate values such as 'trustworthiness' and 'truthfulness' which guided the firm's environmental and social standards. The new sustainability strategy was popular with staff, who were keen to demonstrate their own values through its implementation.
Strategy - TechPro - Responsibilities - Product - Policy
While the new strategy focused on addressing TechPro's social and environmental responsibilities in product policy and staff behaviour, their existing mainstream strategy focused on the competitive objectives and targets associated with defending their market position. For example, improving operational efficiency to ensure competitive pricing and maintaining, and growing, market share.
Tensions arose when managers tried to implement the sustainability strategy alongside the mainstream strategy, in their day-to-day operations. Tensions were in three areas:
Between - Goals - Incompatibility - Tasks - Compliance
Between strategic goals when there was incompatibility between tasks involving both organisational environmental compliance and organisational profit.
Between product features where there was incompatibility in incorporating the sustainability...
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